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TRENTON- State President Peter Andreyev testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee today regarding juvenile crimes, car thefts and burglaries.

Testimony of Peter Andreyev
New Jersey State PBA
June 13, 2024

Thank you Chairman Stack and members of the Committee for this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Peter Andreyev and I am the President of the 30,000 member New Jersey State PBA. I am joined today by my Executive Vice President Michael Freeman.

We are glad that you are having this hearing today because New Jersey can no longer ignore that we have an ongoing problem with juvenile crime, the use of juveniles by criminal gangs to do their dirty work and a growing mentality among minors that they are untouchable when they break the law.

Before I discuss some underlying problems related to juveniles, car thefts, burglaries and other problems I want to be very clear on our position. I believe there is great value, not only for public safety but morally as well, to do what we can to keep minors out of the criminal justice system. Some teens are forced into crime. Some find it through lack of options in life. And some simply make mistakes. None of us want to see someone spend a lifetime in jail starting at a young age if we can help it.

Deferring juveniles from prison is a worthy goal. But it should not be a policy that fails to address the risks posed by not considering a punishment equal to the crime. Unfortunately, the State of New Jersey has gone too far in one direction in its criminal justice policy over the past decade that we are seeing criminal organizations take great advantage of it.

Some serious crime like car theft and burglaries occur as a crime of opportunity. A car is left running or unlocked. A house left unsecured. Valuables left on a counter in a store unattended. These crimes happen every day.

But what we are seeing Statewide is a coordinated use of minors by criminal organizations and our criminal justice policies do little to aid law enforcement in fighting back.

The vast majority of car thefts that occur in NJ are committed by members of criminal organizations. These groups use juveniles for scouting neighborhoods and to steal the vehicles because there is virtually no chance of detention when they are caught by police, and everyone involved is keenly aware of this fact.

And this is where our State policy becomes an impediment to us. Without the threat of detention we can’t effectively build a case against the ring leaders who are adults that pay the juveniles for each car they steal. The juvenile may be caught but they are right back to the neighborhoods looking for more cars to steal.

And since juvenile crimes are not part of the bail reform scheme when that same individual is caught over 18 the entire process starts from scratch as if they had no criminal record.

And for those who doubt that our hands are tied in this fight I point you to Attorney General Directive 2020-12. This policy essentially mandates the issuance of a Complaint-Summons in Lieu of Complaint-Warrant before a juvenile is immediately released into the custody of a parent, guardian or custodian. Crimes like residential burglary, vehicle theft and eluding are not graded sufficiently for presumption of detention unless there is a firearm present or there is death or serious bodily injury.

The juvenile “employee” who is caught will therefore be released in a matter of hours to return to work causing very little disruption to the car theft business. The social ills that may produce the mindset that car theft is a viable job opportunity are beyond our scope, but criminal investigations often require cooperating witnesses who are interested in self-preservation by providing information about their accomplices to avoid or minimize the consequences they face.

It is universally known that there are no consequences for a juvenile taken into custody that would incentivize them to inform since they must be released within 6 hours in almost all cases under the AG Directive I referenced.

I also don’t need to remind any of you that in the last few years we have seen an explosion of disruptions from pop-up parties to underage drinking to mass hysteria on our boardwalks and parks. This is also a direct result of changes made to the adjudication of minors who are drinking or using cannabis.

As many of you know, we did not oppose the legalization of cannabis for adults. But since the enabling law was passed we have been told time and again that nothing stops a police officer from using their many “tools” to deal with drunk or rowdy minors. I must tell you honestly that whatever tools you think we have the law has simply tied our hands and the result is there for all to see.

For your information, I have been a police officer in Point Pleasant Beach for over 30 years. I was in charge of the Boardwalk for many of those. I have dealt with drunks, crowds, fights and instances of mob mentality. And I am telling you that what is happening now is not normal. What is happening now is a direct result of changes in the criminal justice policy of the State.

I will give you one direct example of what I mean. When cannabis was legalized the law established written warnings for minors in possession of it. Yet the law does not require a minor to show ID to an officer to write the warning. So how do we enforce the law when the same law says we can’t enforce it? This is also confirmed by an Attorney General FAQ, updated on March 8, 2021, on the subject that says and I quote “simply refusing to provide identifying information” is not obstruction.

Since that same law says we can’t search a minor, can’t detain a minor and can’t arrest a minor for public use of alcohol or cannabis what exactly are the tools cops are supposed to use to address this situation? Do you think a minor cares about getting a written warning their parents aren’t required to see assuming, that is, they provide us ID to write the warning?

These organized groups of kids are not dumb. They know the law says we can’t do anything to them so they gather, drink, things get wild and then all hell breaks loose. The public deserves to not wait until after things have gotten out of control for the police to be able to make arrests or bring minors down to the station to call their parents.

Finally, we need to take a serious look at bail reform. You can pass any law you want after this but under the current bail reform rules none of them will matter. We hear constantly that bail reform is a success.

Well, if the measurement is releasing even dangerous people back to our communities then I guess you can call it a success. My limited time before you does not allow for me to detail many of the areas bail reform needs to be addressed. But I think there are two things to consider.

First, the Criminal Sentencing Commission needs to have representation from rank-and-file police officers recommended by the State PBA. Our members are the ones dealing with crimes before they ever get to a prosecutor, defender, lawyer or judge. And yet we are excluded from talking about the real-world impact of their recommendations without a seat at the table.

Second, you must seriously consider reviewing the process by which the AOC developed the algorithm that created the Public Safety Assessments used by judges during pretrial detention review. This algorithm was not developed by police, prosecutors or judges but was instead farmed out to the Arnold Foundation, a nonprofit whose anti-cop rhetoric can be found right on their website.

When their approach is centered on comments such as: “police too often rely on punitive enforcement and unnecessary force”; and,

Jails are full because of “law enforcement agencies that arrest more people for minor offenses and over-police communities of color” what do think their system to recommend detention or release is going to say? Justice should be blind. Those positions are hardly impartial and the process needs to change as a result.

I can assure you my members have sworn an oath to protect and serve and will continue to do so to the best of their ability. But we can’t protect the public when the law and policy of the State is designed to keep us from doing it.

As you know well, the State PBA is first and foremost a resource for you and we will gladly engage in meaningful discussions and analysis to support you in your legislative efforts any time.

Thank you for allowing me to make these comments today

Peter Andreyev and Michael Freeman were sworn in as President and Executive Vice President of the 31,000 member New Jersey State PBA this morning at the May Delegates meeting.  

Andreyev, a police officer from Point Pleasant Beach, and Freeman, a Detective from Summit, are both 30 year veteran officers and long time State PBA leaders.  

In a joint statement the new PBA leaders said: 

“We have both dedicated our lives to the service of our brother and sister officers. Protecting and enhancing the rights, benefits and safety of New Jerseys law enforcement officers will be the focus of our leadership.” 

“Taking on these responsibilities is the greatest honor of our careers. We will ensure the State PBA remains the best law enforcement union in the nation and we will be a strong and consistent voice in defense of our members.”

 

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A recent poll shows healthcare costs are voters’ top financial concern. Employer and union health plans like the one I oversee at the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association are on the front lines of this healthcare cost crisis. Collectively, these plans provide coverage for 160 million Americans. Over the last two years, our health plan costs increased by 31% to an average of $43,000 per policyholder. Today, our 30,000 active-duty police officers must pay upwards of $15,000 annually for coverage. Taxpayers pay the rest. Next year, hospital surgery costs are expected to drive our plan costs up another 15%, bringing annual premiums to nearly $50,000." This is the beginning of an Op-Ed written by Kevin Lyons in Fortune magazine as a follow-up to his well-received testimony before the US Congress. To read the entire piece, click here https://fortune.com/2024/03/19/75-unions-employers-endorse-senate-health-care-price-transparency-bill-congress/

Governor Murphy today signed into law legislation extending the 20 and Out benefit for 3 more years. As previously reported the bill was conditionally vetoed by the Governor to give the pension board more time to study the financial impact of the benefit. However, the Governors veto language confirms that at the PFRS Board of Trustees has the power to make the benefit permanent in the future.

Members considering retirement should consult with PFRS staff and MBOS for the date for reinstatement of the benefit option online.

The bill was a major priority for the State PBA. Special thanks to Senator Gopal and Assemblyman DeAngerlo for their sponsorship and forceful advocacy to get the bill done before the summer recess.

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